The specter of forced sterilization haunts California, Peru and beyond

This week, two events returned to center stage the forced sterilization of largely poor women of disenfranchised ethnic minorities. In Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori and three of his Ministers of Health – Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong, and Alejandro Aguinaga – were told they are being investigated and will face charges for the forced sterilization of five women during his time in office. Also this week, in California, state legislators are debating a bill that would establish a “eugenics sterilization compensation program.” From Lima to Sacramento and beyond, once more, the monster women refuse to stay silently buried underground.

Alberto Fujimori was President of Peru from 1990 to 2000. In 1996 Fujimori modified the so-called General Population Law, incorporating “voluntary” sterilization an acceptable contraceptive method. In 1996, the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Programme was launched. From 1996 to 2000, over 300,000 women were sterilized. The overwhelming majority were poor and indigenous. The overwhelming majority never consented to the procedure. Many didn’t even know it was occurring. Over 2000 cases have been lodged against the sterilizations. As many as 18 women died because of the sterilization procedures. In 2014, Fujimori was cleared of any wrongdoing concerning forced sterilizations. In 2009, Fujimori was convicted to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses. Late last year, at the age of 79, Fujimori was released from prison, because of ill health. This week, he was informed that he would be facing charges concerning forced sterilization.

For fifteen years, Peruvian women have struggled and pushed for this moment. For example, year in and year out, the women’s rights organization DEMUS, Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, has documented cases of forced sterilization and called on the government to act. In response to the announcement of forthcoming charges, DEMUS issued a statement, calling the decision “a milestone in the struggle against impunity, one that highlights the national policy of forced sterilization against thousands of Quechua-speaking, peasant, indigenous and native women living in extreme poverty, which perpetrated grave violations of human rights. With their courage and persistence, the 2166 women who, 15 years ago, filed a complaint, today, with this case going into judicial investigation, finally take a step forward towards their right to justice.”

In California, the state legislature is considering a step forward as well. In 1909 California passed laws allowing for forced sterilization. California was one of 32 states that gave allowed for coerced sterilization of those `unfit’ to reproduce. In 1979, California officially banned forced sterilization, but in its prisons, forced sterilization, especially of women, continued until 2010. From 2006 to 2010, 144 women prisoners were sterilized “without proper authorization”. In 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners … again. By 1979, California forcibly sterilized over 20,000 people.  The Latinx population was targeted. Prior to 1926, Latinos were targeted. From 1926 to 1979, Latinas bore the brunt of the eugenics sterilization program. Latina women and girls were at a 59% greater risk of sterilization than non-Latina women and girls. Needless and necessary to say, the Latina woman and girls were also overwhelmingly poor.

In early April, California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced SB-1190 Eugenics Sterilization Compensation Program, which would offer compensation to living survivors of California’s sterilization decades. It is estimated that the Compensation Program would involve around 800 survivors, many of whom to this day do not know that they were sterilized. In establishing a compensation program, California would join Virginia and North Carolina.

Finally, “the bill would require the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services, in consultation with stakeholders, to establish markers or plaques at designated sites that acknowledge the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people. The bill would also require the board, in consultation with stakeholders, to develop a traveling historical exhibit and other educational opportunities about eugenics laws that existed in the State of California between 1909 and 1979 and the far-reaching impact they had on California residents.”

In both Peru and California, reports of judicial investigation in one and legislative action in the other are woven through mountains of haunting, heartrending accounts of survivors, family members, friends. For decades, these stories have been shrouded and buried in layers of State and public silence. Thanks to women who refused to be stopped, who struggled with courage and persistence, the days of enforced silence about forced sterilization are nearing an end. The time for acknowledgement, reparations, and education is now.

 

(Photo Credit: El Pais / Reuters) (Image Credit: Journalists Resource / Rachael Romero)

The Quechua women of Accomarca demand justice!

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, a terrible thing happened to the residents of Accomarca, a largely Quechua village in the Andean province of Ayacucho. On August 14, 1985, the Peruvian army entered the village, looking for Shining Path fighters. Finding none, they took the villagers, around 70 of them, separated the men from the women and children, killed and burned the men; rape and then killed and burned the women; killed and burned the children. For thirty-one years, the women of Accomarca have demanded justice for the violence that was wreaked upon their village, families, community, and upon themselves. This week, a court gave them something that begins to approximate justice.

From the day of the Accomarca massacre until today, women have led the movement for real justice: “For groups that are not allowed a voice in the administration of justice, how does one quell a desire for retribution? For whom does reconciliation sit like a lump in their stomach and a constant irritant of their heart? For women, especially the widows. The work of grief is `women’s work,’ and women literally embody the suffering of their communities in this gendered division of emotional labor. Thus it is phenomenological that they would carry the memories of unaddressed wrongs in their nerves, the lower back, in the nape of their necks. A thwarted desire for justice becomes a felt grievance. It was long conversations with women that demonstrated the need for a political economy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Without economic redistribution, asking people to feel `forgiving’ is itself an immoral act. For the women (and the orphans) their poverty serves as a constant reminder of all they lost. Consensus-making mechanisms may stifle their voices but not their rage.”

While the bestiality of the Peruvian army in Accomarca is beyond horror, the real story is the women who refused to sit down and shut up, who refused to melt into the Andean landscape as just another unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of a dirty war. The women of Accomarca told their stories, repeatedly, and insisted that the stories were theirs. They consistently rejected the bartering system in which survivors share their pain and trauma and, in exchange, receive compassion from a “grateful nation.” From 1985 until today, the women have insisted they don’t want compassion. The women of Accomarca want indignation. First, they organized indignation in their families and communities, and then they moved to Lima with their structures of indignation. They want indignation to move the nation to transform the violence. They want people to understand that the material and economic poverty of their lives are built of the ashes of their loved ones, and that must end. They want the nation to address the racist sexist violence that surrounds and attacks Quechua, and all, indigenous women in Peru.

The women of Accomarca – including Salomé Baldeón, Cirila Pulido Baldeón, Teófila Ochoa Lizarbe, Justa Chuchón – demanded a justice that would replace the smell of burning flesh from their noses, the taste of soured milk from their breasts, and the pounding rage from their hearts and minds. This week, Peru’s National Criminal Court convicted ten officers and soldiers for their roles in the massacre. Meanwhile, the women of Accomarca continue to organize. To this day, those who were killed in the massacre thirty-years ago have yet to be properly buried.

 

(Photo Credit: Proceso / Rodrigo Abd / AP)

The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

For rural women around the world, NOW IS THE TIME!

Around the world, rural women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, farm workers and peasant movements, and more. From the farmlands and highlands of Peru and Colombia to the farmlands of Zimbabwe and the United States, to the polling stations of India, and beyond, rural women are taking charge.

In the highlands of Peru, in Cajamarca, women are fighting to stop a multinational mining consortium from devastating their waters, lands, and lives. At the helm of this struggle are Máxima Acuña Chaupe, who began her campaign as an attempt to secure her family’s land; and Mirtha Vasquez Chuquilin, a lawyer who works for Comprehensive Training for Sustainable Development (Grupo de Formación Integral para el Desarrollo Sostenible, GRUFIDES). Together, these two women are bringing together popular forces, women’s groups and knowledge, and legal and technical skills. They combat the mining security forces as well as the mining companies’ lawyers while they also combat State security forces and other, more anonymous agents.

The risk to their lives is great, but the risk of not struggling is greater.

Likewise, in Colombia, peasant farmers are engaged in an agrarian strike that has paralyzed much of the country. At the helm of this campaign is Olga Quintero, a leader of the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, which was on strike last year for 52 days. Last December, two armed masked men broke into Quintero’s home. She wasn’t there, and so they bound and gagged her three-year-old daughter. Quintero’s response: “Ni el dinero ni la tierra. El miedo fue lo único que quedó bien repartido entre todos en Colombia.” “Neither money nor land. Fear was the only thing well distributed among all in Colombia.”

Her response is to meet fear with courage, hope, love, and mass organization.

In Zimbabwe, Lena Murembwe, saw a problem. Rural women didn’t know their rights to land. More to the point, rural women didn’t know they had any rights. And so Murembwe’s organization, the Women’s Resource Foundation, began giving workshops and trainings to women in their own rural districts. Widows like Lucia Makawa, 43 years old and the mother of five children, grabbed the opportunity, studied hard, organized, met with traditional chiefs, and took claim to their land. Now Makawa owns six hectares of land, and can see something like a future: “As women we were not even allowed to own a piece of land. But with support from WRF, we have managed to mobilise the support of the chiefs and we have helped solve cases where women were deprived of their right to own land. Now I have my own land and I am in the process of sourcing materials to start building structures. I also have enough space to do my farming.”

Other women, such as Beulah Muchabveyo, studied, learned their rights, and organized to create a dignified, safe space for themselves: “In the past my husband was not treating me as a person at all. He was abusive and never helped with farming work but expected me to give him money after selling our produce. Things are now different in my family after I underwent training in gender and human rights. The training has also given us a platform to meet and discuss issues affecting our lives as women.”

These women know and teach: there is power in knowledge, in union, and in organizing.

In India, as the elections proceed, there’s unprecedented movement among rural women, and unprecedented discussion of `what rural women want.’ What do rural women want? Everything! Rural women say they want public dialogue. They want to be heard. They want a say. They want respect and dignity. They want decent jobs, education, health care. They want an end to violence against women and girls. They want an end to violence. They want an end to predatory lending that targets rural populations and often sends them headlong into bondage or death. They want their own representatives – like Dayamani Barla or Soni Sori – and their proven allies, like Medha Patkar, in Parliament. They want the State. They want democracy. They want it all.

And in the United States, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers want it all as well. When women in the tomato fields of Florida, women like Lupe Gonzalo and Isabel, organize for farm worker’s rights and dignity, they put the struggle to end sexual violence and harassment front and center. They say they cannot wait til after the vote, after the contract, after the revolution for their bodily and spiritual well being to become `an issue.’ They say now is the time.

From Peru and Colombia to Zimbabwe to India to the United States, and beyond and between, rural women, peasant women, women farm workers are organizing intensely because their lives matter urgently: NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

 

(Image Credit: American Dairy Association of Indiana)

Root Shock, 2009

Two novel and not so novel forms of urban renewal in the new and renewed year.

One: Have a pit mine gobble up your city.  Along the way, try to make sure that 82% of women of childbearing age (what is that anyway?) have high levels of toxic substances in their blood. That’s what happening in Cerro de Pasco, in the central highlands of Peru. Right to the city? More like dart to the heart of the city. Not to worry, though, the McMansion trend — buy a house, tear it down, build a monster, piss on your neighbors — is slowing down.

Two:  Try a few weeks, maybe more, of aerial bombing attacks followed by ground invasion. That’ll clear out that seedy city center you’ve wanted to redevelop for so long. In Gaza, Filipinas, mostly married to Palestinian residents, refuse to leave and decide to stay. Both. GMA News describes this as “`love’”. Their quotation marks. I won’t get into that, but it is interesting that they also feel compelled to note that only one of the Filipinas is an overseas Filipina worker. So? Do domestic workers not establish roots, merely because they `only’ stay for five or ten or twenty or fifty years? Really? Anyway, a reminder, as if you needed it, that Gaza is like everywhere else: local and transnational. And that like everywhere else, women make important, and diverse, decisions and take action.

Mindy Fullilove, in Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, describes the racial politics of `blight’ and `urban renewal’ legislation and policy in the United States. Welcome to Cerro de Pasco, where women’s blood is being poisoned, welcome to Gaza City, where, given an opportunity, women under attack decide to stay and refuse to leave. Welcome to urban renewal, January 2009.

(Photo Credit: Vice/Arthur Holland Michel)